In its quest to continue bringing college baseball here, the Pensacola Sports Association had an easy pitch.
Five teams, including Southern Mississippi, were part of a tournament scheduled at MGM Stadium in Biloxi, home of the new Biloxi Shuckers in the Double-A Southern League. But the stadium won’t be finished until at least June.
A few phone calls later, the event was reset and rescheduled in the form of the Cox Diamond Invitational that begins Friday at Pensacola’s bayfront stadium. Southern Miss, Troy University, Nicholls State, St. Louis University and the University of North Florida will play a three-day, eight-game, round-robin series of games through Sunday.
The Pensacola Blue Wahoos and PSA have partnered to co-manage the event at the Community Maritime Park.
“We kinda fell into this one,” said Jason Libbert, the PSA event coordinator. “After last year, we started talking to a few teams and they book their schedules years in advance. We were looking for games down here and these five teams were supposed in Biloxi.
“So it worked out great for everybody,”
A year ago, major college baseball made its debut at the Blue Wahoos stadium with the Florida Gators playing Southern Miss in early March, followed by Alabama vs. Troy three weeks later. Both games filled the stands.
Expectations aren’t the same this time, but Libbert said the format of playing three consecutive days allows flexibility for people to attend. Plus, there is no reserve seating. Ticket holders can find any open seat or move around throughout the park.
Cox Sports Television is broadcasting the Friday night game (Southern Miss vs. North Florida) and the second Sunday game (Troy vs. Nicholls State), throughout its national cable outlets.
“Each year, we want to bring games here,” Libbert said. “But one of the big challenges is teams typically have schedules set years in advance.”
Southern Miss (3-0), Troy (3-1), Nicholls State (2-1) and UNF (1-2) all played season-opening series last weekend at their home ballparks. St. Louis (1-4) opened its season in Port Charlotte, losing to Pittsburgh, Iowa and Ohio State and beating Kansas State.
The games will feature seven Pensacola area players, including four starters on three teams.
North Florida, which has three area players, has a Pace High infield with Trent Higginbothem at third base, Patrick Ervin at shortstop. Also at UNF is Catholic grad and pitcher Nick Miller.
Higginbothem leads the Ospreys with five hits in eight at-bats, including a home run, a double, an RBI and nine total bases. Ervin has four hits in 11 at-bats with a pair of RBI. Pitcher Nick Miller, a senior and Catholic High graduate, did not pitch in the team’s first three games.
Troy Trojans right fielder and cleanup hitter Logan Hill, a Washington High graduate, has started all four games with four hits in 10 at-bats. He has a home run and three RBI.
Nicholls State outfielder Gavin Wehby, a Catholic grad, has started one of the four games with two runs scored. Brandon Harigel is a Pensacola High grad and junior college transfer as infielder. Cooper Jones (Catholic) is part of the Southern Miss pitching staff.
“Playing in Pensacola last year was such a positive experience that coming back was an absolute no-brainer,” Troy coach Bobby Pierce said. “The quality of teams for the weekend and the fabulous venue should make for an outstanding weekend of college baseball.”
“We are honored to be a part of a great tournament in one of the best baseball venues in the south,” Nicholls State coach Seth Thibodeaux said. “We are excited to bring our team to Pensacola. We have some alumni there and we have some players on our team from the Pensacola area and I know they’ll be excited to be coming home to play in front of friends and family.”
This is the first time baseball games have been played in February at the Blue Wahoos stadium since in opened in 2011. Blue Wahoos president Bruce Baldwin said it represents another chance to show off the stadium and the hard work of the ballclub’s staff.
“Our grounds crew is so good they will be prepared for anything,” Baldwin said. “Ray (Sayre) and his staff are the best. Every year we over-seed the grass with a rye grass, so that keeps everything green and it’s growing well.
“Part of our mission statement (is) economic development and quality of life issues. And if we can help anyone in Pensacola that fits our model with either of those two things, then we are all for it.
“For me, it’s about bringing people to Pensacola. You will have five teams from out of town, parents and fans and they will be spending money in our community. This was when (PSA) could put it together and even if (event) helps a little bit, it’s good.
Cox Diamond Invitational
At Blue Wahoos stadium
11 a.m. — Nicholls State vs. University of North Florida
3 p.m. — Troy vs. St. Louis
7 p.m. — Southern Miss vs. North Florida
11 a.m. — Southern Miss vs. St. Louis
3 p.m. — Troy vs. North Florida
7 p.m. — Southern Miss vs. Nicholls State
11 a.m. — North Florida vs. St. Louis
2:30 p.m. — Troy vs. Nicholls State
Want to go?
•Weekend passes are $35
•Friday and Saturday passes are $15. Open seating for all games.
•Sunday pass is $10
•Student Passes Available at the Box Office (5-18 or valid college ID)
•Saturday is Military Appreciation Day; active or retired military admitted for $5 with an ID